CLEVELAND — Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme knew exactly what the Atlanta Falcons were thinking when he limped onto the field Sunday.
“Me hobbling out there, that’s blood in the water for those guys — let’s be honest,” he said. “You try to be at your best at all times, so it’s just frustrating. It’s definitely frustrating.” While Delhomme’s mind-reading abilities proved accurate against Atlanta, his passes were not.
Clearly hindered by a sprained right ankle, he threw two second-half interceptions as the Falcons scored 14 straight points and rallied for a 20-10 victory over Cleveland.
Had starter Seneca Wallace not gone down with a sprained right ankle of his own late in the second quarter, the Browns might have pulled off a major upset.
Bad luck and a couple of bad passes, however, allowed Atlanta to escape with a big win in its pursuit of the NFC South Division championship.
“It was another close game and we had the lead at the half again, but a loss is a loss,” Cleveland wide receiver Joshua Cribbs lamented. “Our defense stopped them in the red zone all day, but again, we gave (the ball) to them on offense with turnovers.
“There is no end to our fight, I’m sure of that, but we have to work even harder to keep things going in the right direction.”
Unfortunately, the Browns’ next direction is East — specifically downtown Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are no doubt licking their chops coming off a bye.
With a healthy quarterback, Cleveland would be hard pressed to beat its archrival.
But with Delhomme and Wallace both wobbling around, it’s frightening to consider how badly the Browns might lose. Then again, either of them at 50 percent would give Cleveland a better chance than rookie Colt McCoy, who has looked beyond lost from the first day of training camp.
Browns coach Eric Mangini essentially confirmed that thought process when asked if he considered playing McCoy after Wallace got hurt.
“I think Jake was the better option, which is why we went with Jake, and at times he moved the ball really effectively,” said Mangini, who also used Cribbs at the position for three plays.
Against Atlanta, Delhomme completed 13 of 23 throws for 97 yards, two picks, one fumble, and a miserable 30.5 passer rating. It was his first action since being hurt Sept.
12 in Tampa Bay and was lowlighted by Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann’s 31-yard interception for a touchdown.
“I was limited, but we knew that going in,” said Delhomme, who became a sitting duck every time he dropped back in the pocket. “We didn’t think that Sen would go down, though, that’s the frustrating thing.
“The film from practice all week told us a great deal about what I could and couldn’t do.
You didn’t need to be too smart to know Sen was our best option.”
Wallace was actually outplaying Falcons counterpart Matt Ryan when he went down on a sack by John Abraham with 25 seconds left in the second quarter. He went 11-of-15 for 139 yards, one touchdown and a 124.0 rating in his fourth consecutive start.
The career backup was able to gingerly walk around the sideline in the second half, but said he “had to make the right decision and not go back out because I wouldn’t be able to push off or run on my ankle.”
“It’s very disappointing because I felt like we were clicking on all cylinders in the first half,” said Wallace, who wore flip-flops as he addressed the media following the game.
“But I think if I had gone back in, I probably would have made things worse.
“Now, we’ll just see what happens after I have it checked out. I feel all right, but that’s to be expected with all the adrenalin going. The real test will be how I feel tomorrow.”
No, the real test will be who is under center next Sunday at Heinz Field.